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Data Science: Do It Yourself or Leave It To The Experts?

Blogger and venture capitalist Fred Wilson has a dream for the future of data science. The data's out there, he says. Analyze it yourself.
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Call it DIY data science.

In March, venture capitalist Fred Wilson blogged about what he sees as a trove of publicly available data just waiting to be mined from the Internet. What's more, he thinks hobbyists and curious Internet users--not just professional data scientists--ought to be the ones mining it.

It appears that Wilson's hopes for do-it-yourself data science may be coming to fruition.

Last week, blogger and New York Times tech developer Alastair Coote dove into a pile of publicly-available data from the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and emerged with a digestible list of New York City's most popular commuter stops. After discovering that the MTA collected data on the number of subway turnstile swipes for each specific station, Coote decided to created a map of the 10 most popular rush-hour stops in the city.

This style of citizen science has Wilson excited about the possibilities for business owners and curious laypeople, and he was quick to re-post Coote's project to his own blog. Wilson views the easy accessibility of data as an opportunity for entrepreneurs to do what they do best: Create and innovate.

"I hope we all get into data hacking and start collaborating on this stuff together publicly. We might learn some interesting things about ourselves and our world at the same time," he wrote in another post on Thursday.

Before you ditch your existing data experts, however, consider the rebuttal: Shrikant Narasimhan, a data scientist and author of the blog TechSwamp, sees Wilson's vision as "unworkable at best." In a response to Wilson's DIY data science pitch, Narasimhan wrote:

"What is preventing the layperson right now from becoming data wizard is, quite simply, the lack of knowledge. The world of data science is quite exciting--and tools, techniques and education will only continue to improve and wow us--but 'DIY data science' will never be a thing."

IMAGE: Matelly/Getty
Last updated: Jun 6, 2013

FRANCESCA FENZI | Staff Writer

Francesca Fenzi reports on entrepreneurship, technology and small business news from San Francisco. Her work has previously appeared in TIME, USA Today, Pop City and The Northside Chronicle.




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